IRLA decries Iran's decision to proceed with execution of Christian pastor

Supports US House of Representatives resolution urging Iran to exonerate its religious 'criminals'

Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani and his wife.Feb 27, 2012 ... The International Religious Liberty Association has joined an eleventh-hour effort to focus international attention on the plight of an Iranian pastor facing imminent execution for refusing to give up his faith. Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani appears to have exhausted his avenues of legal appeal following reports last week that an Iranian Court has upheld a sentence of death for the convicted “apostate.”

Attorney Dwayne Leslie, IRLA deputy secretary general and its representative on Capitol Hill, calls last week’s news “a tragic reminder of the current political and legal culture in Iran that represses religious minorities.” He says the IRLA is supporting a United States House of Representatives Resolution calling on Iran to live up to its human rights’ obligations under international law. The resolution, known as HR 556, urges the government of Iran to “exonerate and immediately release Youcef Nadarkhani and all other individuals held on account of their religion.”

“Pastor Nadarkhani’s ordeal represents just one part of the vast, largely untold tragedies spawned by Iran’s apostasy laws,” says Mr. Leslie. “The right to change one’s religion based on the dictates of conscience is one of the most basic of human rights. Yet for many men and women in Iran today, the choice to depart from their country’s dominant religion can be a life or death decision.”

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s legal nightmare began in 2009 with his arrest for apostasy. The 34-year-old father of two was pastor of a Christian congregation in the northern city of Rasht. Key to his fate has been the question of whether he converted to Christianity as an adult, thus contravening Iran’s strict apostasy laws. During various court appearances, he has declined to renounce his Christian faith.

Ultimately, the Iranian legal system has declared that Nadarkhani’s conversion to Christianity at age 19 constitutes a betrayal of his Muslim heritage. Last week, an Iranian court upheld his sentence of death by hanging—a sentence which could be carried out at any time. 

IRLA secretary general Dr. John Graz lauds Pastor Nadarkhani’s courage, saying his situation “reflects the reality that there are millions of other people around the world today who are also subject to gross violations of basic human rights, and who must live and worship in constant fear for their lives.”

“The IRLA is committed to being the voice for the voiceless, and to continuing the fight for freedom of conscience for all people, no matter what their faith tradition,” says Dr. Graz. 

The IRLA, together with other supporters of HR 556, hope the resolution will help engage international support for Pastor Nadarkhani’s release. [Bettina Krause/IRLA]